Descent into imports-dependence

By Raffique Shah
April 05, 2016
Posted: April 10, 2016

Raffique ShahWhat I established last week was that Trinidad and Tobago, like most small island states that were once colonised by imperial powers, relies heavily on imported foods for its sustenance.

All our staples-grains (wheat, rice, maize), dairy products (milk, cheese, butter), sugar, edible oils, white potatoes, beans and pulses-come from abroad, mainly North America, the EU, Australia and New Zealand.

As a British colony up to 1962, the agro-economy was structured not to feed the nation, but to benefit Britain. Hence the main cash crops were cocoa and later sugar, in huge quantities, for export to the “mother country” where these commodities were processed.

Other crops were cultivated and livestock reared based on individual needs and initiatives (corn, pigeon peas, vegetables, root crops, cattle, pigs, ruminants, rice, fruits) or corporate interests (coconuts, citrus).

It is not by accident that most ex-colonies remained reliant on their former masters for basic foods even though many of them had the critical resources required for production-arable land, adequate water, fertilisers, and in our case energy to fuel mechanisation and processing.

How we, and billions of other human beings who live in tropical and sub-tropical countries that do not grow wheat, ended up with that crop as our principal grain, such that we think we cannot live without bread, roti, pasta and so on, explains the most damning, deleterious effects of colonialism and imperialism.

During World War II, when shipping across the Atlantic was very risky (German submarines sank numerous cargo vessels), people were forced to grow produce on all available lands, and to eat what they grew.

Cassava flour (farine), corn flour, other tubers and ground provisions supplemented the limited wheat flour available. Based on stories I heard as a boy (I was born in 1946, one year after the war ended), Indians easily adjusted to a “dhal” made from pigeon peas. Black eye peas were cultivated, and “common fowl” that provided meat and eggs, could be found in most backyards, even those of the genteel folks from Woodbrook and St Clair.

Necessity, I suppose, not to add hunger, was the mother of adaptation.

Afterwards, when oil became the engine of the economy and we could import not just flour and rice but eggs and potato chips, food production went into freefall. In its twenty-or-so twilight years, the sugar industry was a heavily-subsidised burden. Rice production and quality all but collapsed. Cocoa went into a coma.

Even vegetables that we were so good at growing were replaced by concrete and billboards (along the C-R Highway, from Barataria to Waller Field, once lush-green fields laden with produce).

Now, with the oil dollars reading low, we are talking about reviving food production, cutting the TT $4 billion annual food import bill.

It’s not that successive governments did not lend some focus and spend some money on stimulating food production.

In the 1960s, the PNM in government established large livestock farms on State lands in Waller Field, Carlsen Field, and elsewhere. Subsidies and incentives were allocated to encourage farmers to engage in agriculture, fishing, etc.

But with revenues from oil addling our brains, these initiatives turned into exercises in futility. Farm labour migrated to the more lucrative construction industry that boomed. The rain-fed paddy fields of Caroni, Oropouche, Barrackpore and elsewhere were backfilled and transformed into housing and commercial estates.

And since we could afford to buy the foods we needed, not to add the metropolitan processed junk we hankered after, why should we bother to “bun in de sun” growing stuff that our children will not eat?

It was not by accident that the fast-foods culture that transformed entire populations in developed countries into disease-ridden, pills-popping, grossly-overweight beings, added to our woes.

I have not seen this data collated anywhere, but when one fast-foods chain boasts of $1 billion in annual sales, this tells me that we spend approximately $4 billion a year consuming disease-and-death-dealing junk.

Add to that at least $5 billion in medical bills, for those who eat their way into the so-called lifestyle diseases, and the food and health landscape takes on a grim, $10 billion funereal facade.

In other words, we are spending huge amounts of foreign exchange in importing foods, much of which make us sick, rather than growing and eating more nutritious fruits and foods, however little these may impact our overall consumption.

If each household has one main meal a day comprising local produce (ground provisions, breadfruits, vegetables), we might save TT $1 billion a year in foreign imports.

If we eat some tropical fruits once a week, grow a few vegetables in our backyards or buy from the neighbourhood farmers, we’ll put another dent on that US-dollar bill.

Next week I close with where I think the policy-makers are going wrong in their bid to resuscitate food production.

4 Responses to “Descent into imports-dependence”


  • Mr. Shah this is another attempt to blame the past. When we were exporting to the colonials what were we importing?? We had rice paddies all along the banks of the Caroni river, where are they?? That was our grain. Yes we exported to the colonial government but we produced for ourselves.

    But since 1962 what have we done. We have said that “Massa day done”. We don’t want no hard wuk. We ended all the farming industry. We fed the world oil and had lots of money to buy anything we wanted.

    Stop blaming the colonials and get up and do what we have to do. I could blame my parents for everything. They didn’t make enough money to leave me a bank roll. That is why I am suffering. Bull crap. I have to do it for myself and my children. My children have to keep the ball rolling and do it for themselfs and their children. Ad infinitum. All we want to do is get free things from the oil dollars. From the people in the government on down.

    • AI you are suffering. Please stop! Go read more. After 1962 was 1970 and JUST 10 years later after according to IMF records in the 70s Amoco now BP for that period alone they stole from us $60 Billon USD. DO NOT FORGET PREVATT , O’HALLORAN, MAHABHIR (O FAIRLY IS PART OF THAT CLAN) CARTY – ALL AH WE PNM THIEF, ETC. Back then I worked for $2000 TT a month (1TT=1US) and I traveled all over the world on that salary and today I fully own a house in a good area in TT plus other assets. Manning freezed our salaries as with all the unionised workers and the employers even did not pay our NIS (none made a jail) and Manning doubled his salary and hired persons into big pappie positions with false papers like his wife and many others. But then after 1970 there was 1990 and we know what that shit was all about. Muslims occupy low income areas and employ those persons just like ISIS. So what am I saying. Remember when Panday said ” wake me up when it is all over with”. Hence the shit from 1962 just continued on with both the PNM/UNC ( the continued greased hand mentality for favors to the world business scammers) who come here to milk us backed by the G8s. THEY PLAYED ALL OF US. WE NOW NEED TO DO A PLAY BACK and PULL THE RUG FROM UNDER THEM. They formed their clans with family, friends, Mr Big (Manning friend) etc. and they all decided the twin island state was theirs. Ask Billy he was just an ordinary plant supervisor who was overlooked for promotion and once upon a time ago cried on my shoulder but through his connections (family in Government) became I am told a billionaire. Kamla was an ordinary rice planter. She is now a billionaire. WE WERE PLAYED election after election. Panday was good as he gained from Carlos John and was caught red handed unlike the others but got a get out of jail card ( HE KNOWS TOO MUCH) and continues to enjoy life. As for justice well after Sharma PNM did a job on the judiciary. THEY WANTED A POLICE STATE WITH THE JUDICIARY ABOARD. BUT THEY HAD TO GET THE APPROVAL OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD. THAT IS NOT GOING TO EVER HAPPEN. SO THE ENTIRE SYSTEM IN T&T THEY BROKE (ALL AH THEM STILL THIEFING). HISTORY HAS SHOWN ALL OUT WAR WILL FOLLOW – NO TRUST ANYMORE. WHEN A POLITICIAN TALKS NOW IS TO NOT TO STAND UP…RUN. THEY BROKE ALL THE SYSTEMS INCLUDING ALL AH WE. THEY WANT TO ENSLAVE WE NOW.

  • Trinis are brainwashed into thinking that foreign food items are better than the local produce. That is why the big food chains charge ridiculously high food prices and send the local capital abroad. One look at how hotdogs, chicken, beef, pork are reared and type of growth hormones that are pumped into these lifestock to make them grow at an incredible rate it will turn your stomach.

    To have a healthy lifestyle stay away from process food that make the body acidic and causes cancer to grow and eat the local fruit and vegetables. If you worried about pesticides and carbile using to speed up the process soak the veges in pure white vinegar for 1/2 hour before eating.

  • This goes way beyond food. It is plain greed by the uncle toms among us. They feed the scamming foreigners who milked us for over 50 years. We are now left dirt poor. WE MUST TELL THESE NASTY GREEDY FOREIGNERS TO HANDS OFF OUR COUNTRY. DO WE HAVE THE BALLS TO DO THIS LIKE CHAVEZ AND CASTRO….HELL NO. SO WE ARE LEFT TO SUFFER. These people would not quit our country until all their wells of wealth run dry. While afro is pulling sword for indo we are all suffering and THEY ARE LIVING LIKE KINGS AND QUEENS AMONG US ALL. NOW IT IS TIME THAT ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE.

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